story and photos by Julie Bagley
More than 150 single parents received scholarships in various amounts Saturday at the annual Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County at the Shewmaker Center in Bentonville.
Some of the recipients received more than one scholarship. In total, more than $180,000 was handed out to single parents.
Kristi Mitchell is a mother of three under 20 years old and said being the program is allowing her to go to school.
“Even if I think I’m failing my kids, they are seeing all this and I say this program is more beneficial to the kids than me,” she said.
Mitchell first entered the program in 2003. She graduated from the program after receiving an associate’s degree in graphic design. With the recession and job market, she decided to re-enter the program in 2010 to further her education. She’s now studying for an education degree and hopes to further her studies and earn a master’s and doctorate.
“I’m starting to see my choices rub off on my kids. My son is applying to colleges at the UA and will major in mechanical engineering. My daughter is seeing me and turning things around and my youngest son’s vocabulary is expanding,” Mitchell said.
While Saturday’s event was to award scholarship it was also to expand skills of those single parents with workshops on resume building, interview skills and other topics related to obtaining employment.
The goal of Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund is to assist low-income single parents to complete their post-secondary education in preparation for skilled employment. Its strategy is to work at the county level to organize affiliate scholarship funds operated by local residents and provide on-site assistance.
Alumni of the program Candace Mckinley took full advantage of the services offered by ASPSF. She joined the program after her divorce in 2008. She is a single parent to three children under the age of 11.
“They’ve helped me with gas, financial advice, emotional support and help me get a real job,” she said, “I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree and go on and get my master’s. I have zero credit cards.”
Mckinley said the free counseling for her and her children is the best resource she’s utilized.
“Having the support of the people here and the office. Some of us don’t have families in the area and it is a wonderful way to build a support system.”
Mckinley credits workshops like the one she attended Saturday to improving her job market skills in landing a new job at the UA as a Lab Coordinator. Out of the nearly 200 parents enrolled in the program, 11 are men. Benton County Single Parent Program Executive Director Sally Conduff said this number has grown in recent years. A change she welcomes. She wants single parents to know struggling to financially to educate a family isn’t a “mommy” problem.
One father, Scott Carrington, entered the program just-in-time. He served the U.S. Navy for five years and his G.I. Bill ran out this semester.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said, “I was thinking I was going to have to take a night job.”
That was something Carrington didn’t want to do since his daughter is only 2 years old.
His math coordinator at John Brown University told him about ASPSF and within three weeks he received the scholarship money to stay in school and stay at home. In two more years, he will have earned a double-major in computer engineering and computer science.
As of Oct. 1, 2012, the statewide program has awarded a total of 31,279 scholarships worth $17,322,359 since 1990. A comprehensive recipient follow-up study completed in 2010 revealed 82% retention and graduation rate and a 70% employment rate at above poverty-level income among working graduates. The report also found that nearly 32% of students who graduated from post-secondary programs were continuing in school to further their education.
A Delta Scholarship Project was initiated in 2000 to spur an increase in scholarship awards available in eastern Arkansas. As of Oct. 1, 2012, Delta-region affiliates awarded a combined total of 6,828 scholarships worth $2,952,158 since 1990. Funding of this initiative has been provided by private foundations, businesses, individuals, and the Arkansas Office of Community Services.
About 75% of all dollars awarded through the program comes from contributions made by local businesses, civic organizations, churches, family foundations, and individuals.
Nearly one in five Arkansas families is led by single parents, of which 80% are single mothers. An estimated 43% of single-parent families were officially below the poverty line (2008-2010 American Community Survey) in 2010.
Conduff said broadly, any single parent with custody of one or more minor children, living in Benton County, attending an approved school and low-income can qualify to be in the program.
“Going back to school is terrifying and it can be humiliating to receive food stamps and other assistance but you know you are improving your life,” said Mitchell.
Link here for scholarship information.